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Josh Flores, a father of two students who were on a Forest Lake Elementary School bus when it was hijacked by a Fort Jackson trainee, spoke out at a press conference with his lawyers Thursday.
At the Strom Law Firm on Trenholm Road in Columbia, Flores, joined with attorneys Bakari Sellers and Jessica Fickling, called on authorities at Fort Jackson and Richland County School District Two to answer to the failures that led to a 23-year-old trainee taking 18 children and a bus driver hostage while they were on their way to school on May 6.
“Obviously these girls and all of the children are going to be impacted by this significantly and for a long time, and so we look forward to working with the individuals involved in this to come to some solution to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Fickling said.
Flores’ two daughters, ages 11 and 6, have not returned to school because they are traumatized by the hijacking, Flores said. They will most likely do virtual school for the rest of the year, but he still worries about them going to the bus stop in the future.
“What happens next year when it’s probably going to be mandatory for all of the kids to go back to school? Because they’re definitely terrified and definitely feel like, ‘what if this happens again?’” Flores said. “What do we do as parents? It’s just a confusing and difficult time.”
Flores’ 11-year-old daughter is having a more difficult time understanding the event because of her autism. Flores said she is afraid of all soldiers now.
Counseling services were sent to Forest Lake Elementary to help the students recover, Richland 2 Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said at a May 6 news conference. Most of the children on the bus returned to school the next day. No one was physically harmed in the kidnapping.
Flores expressed deep gratitude for the Richland deputies who helped during the hijacking to get the kids back to safety and capture the trainee.
“How did Fort Jackson let this happen is my question. How do you let him get off the premises with a gun?” he asked.
This week state Sen. Mia McLeod introduced a resolution to honor bus driver Kenneth Corbin for his cool demeanor under pressure and ability to de-escalate the dangerous situation, according to a release from the Richland 2 School District.
“We definitely think law enforcement are heroes, we applaud the bus driver for all the efforts he took — we just question whether he had all the resources necessary to prevent it from happening,” said Sellers.
The Army trainee, identified by authorities as Jovan Collazo, remains in the Richland County jail. His charges include 19 counts of kidnapping. Richland Sheriff Leon Lott said that Collazo escaped the base, the U.S. Army’s largest basic training facility, with an Army-issued M4 rifle.
Collazo left the base around 7 a.m. on May 6 and boarded the school bus at a stop at Eagle Park Drive and Percival Road, said Lott. The trainee told the driver he didn’t want to hurt anybody and wanted to be taken to the next town, according to Lott.
Fort Jackson apologized that day for the incident. “This was a failure in our accountability procedures that we truly regret and are apologetic to our community,” Fort Jackson spokeswoman LA Sully said in a news release issued that day.
Fort Jackson’s commanding general, Milford Beagle, said the gun did not have any ammunition because the trainee was only in his third week of training and live rounds and blank ammunition had not been issued yet.
With the bus on the move, the kids began to frustrate Collazo with a lot of questions, according to Lott. The trainee had the driver stop near the intersection of Alpine and Percival roads and let the kids and driver off, the sheriff said.
Collazo drove off a couple miles, but soon abandoned the bus and left his rifle on board at the intersection of Quincy and Old Percival roads. The trainee had difficulty driving the bus, according to the sheriff.
Flores has not spoken with anyone at Fort Jackson yet, he said. No litigation or subpoenas have been filed yet, according to Sellers, but “something is in the works.”
“We are facilitating calls from other parents,” Sellers said. “We represent two of them [children] and we anticipate that list to grow when we get to the point of litigation.”